Living Soil Care: The First Steps to a New Garden

So you just had a large pile of fresh Soilutions compost or soil delivered to your driveway, now what?  After you bask in the amazing aroma of the fresh, dark, rich living earth for a few minutes, it’s time to get to work.  Here’s what you need to do for successful soil or compost application:

First, have your tools ready. You won’t need many tools, but a quick checklist is handy to make sure you have them on hand. This will keep you from that last minute hardware store run.


Tools we recommend:


  • Wheelbarrow or any other heavy duty transport device
  • Shovel- Use a spade if you plan on mixing fresh soil with existing soil
  • Gloves
  • A hose or sprinkler near your garden bed, best practice is to have an adjustable nozzle for quick use.
  • Garden Rake
  • Soil Thermometer (optional)



STEP 1: Transport Your Compost to Your New Plating Area As Soon As Possible.


We recommend transporting your compost to your garden bed within 24 hours, but no later than 72 hours after receiving it. Soil and compost are heavy—we like to say compost gets heavier as the day grows later, so you’ll want to make sure you have a wheelbarrow or garden cart handy to help with transport. Gloves are essential as well- a cubic yard or more of compost is a lot of shovelfuls.

STEP 1A: Must Add Water! Your compost/soil is thirsty!


Working with bulk natural, living soil is different than bagged potting mixes and soils. The living soil needs to maintain moisture content, and in our dry, arid environment, it loses moisture quickly. Natural minerals in soil can become hydrophobic (resistant to moisture absorption) without moisture, so be sure to keep your soil well-watered as soon as you work it into your planting area, and throughout the growing season. If you’re soil does show signs of hydrophobia after it settles, water it slowly and steadily over the course of a day or two. When the top layer of soil starts accepting water you can return to normal watering. 

When you start filling in your garden bed or raised bed with your compost or soil, you should have a hose with a mister nozzle or a sprinkler attachment. Direct the hose at the soil to add consistent light moisture as you mix in your new compost (it’s also a good way to get a quick drink of water during all the hard work).

Moisture needs to be worked into compost and soil at a steady, even rate to prevent clumping. This is why we recommend a misting nozzle or sprinkler- a rush of water can lead to clumping soils, which produce dry pockets that direct water through channels instead of allowing water to permeate throughout the soil. The soil or compost should take on the texture of a damp sponge: wet to the touch, but no water dripping when you squeeze it. 

After the soil is in place and well-watered, level the soil with a garden rake.  A level soil will ensure that water flows down and through soil, and will help prevent surface erosion.

STEP 2: Rest the Soil – Don’t plant for at least 3 days!


Adding water to living soil will reinvigorate the micro-organisms and they will start to feed rapidly. This rapid microbial feeding frenzy will cause the soil to heat up, so you want to let the soil rest for a few days before you seed or transplant into it, otherwise your seeds or tender baby plants will suffer and possibly die.  Soilutions' composts and soils are tested for stability before we consider them ready, so a ‘hot’ soil is unlikely, but it is always best practice to wait for a few days to a week before planting.

A soil thermometer is a great tool to have during the rest period, and also in case a cold-snap hits between the time of your soil application and your desired planting date. Ideal soil temperatures depend on the plants, but as a general guide you want your soil to be between 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal growing conditions. Continue to water your soil regularly during this rest period. Steady, regular watering will also prevent the soil from becoming hydrophobic. 

As soon as your soil reaches the right temperature and all danger of frost is over, it’s time to plant or transplant. Once you’ve planted, bed in your transplants with a protective top level of mulch—super important in our climate. Living soil needs help trapping moisture in our hot arid environment, and mulch is your best friend. Soilutions' Forest Floor mulch is a great choice as it contains 10% compost to help keep your soil full of living organic matter all season long!

Happy growing!